Memory Lane: Rovers thriller

By Graham Hill

VILLA face Blackburn Rovers at home when they return from the international break.

And who could forget when these two sides met at Villa Park nine years ago in the second leg of their League Cup semi-final tie against Sam Allardyce’s side.

It ended up being a 10-goal thriller – with Martin O’Neill’s Villa coming out on top to set up a Wembley final with Manchester United.

Here is how BBC Online saw it in words – but click on highlights of the game to see the goal-fest for yourself.

Aston Villa battled back from a 30-minute horror show to reach the Carling Cup final after an extraordinary last-four, second leg with 10-man Blackburn.

Villa, 1-0 first-leg winners, were behind to a Nikola Kalinic brace before Stephen Warnock powered the ball home.

James Milner’s penalty when Christopher Samba saw red, a Steven Nzonzi own goal, a touch by Gabriel Agbonlahor and an Emile Heskey strike seemed enough.

Martin Olsson and Brett Emerton gave Rovers hope before Ashley Young scored.

Villa manager Martin O’Neill reached the League Cup final three times in four years when in charge at Leicester City but the presumption he would be heading to Wembley on 28 February was tested early on.

The visitors gave warning of their aerial threat when Morten Gamst Pedersen’s flighted corner was tipped away by Brad Guzan with Samba lurking menacingly.

The goalkeeper, who has started all of Villa’s cup ties this season, looked even more uncertain as the visitors took the lead.

David Dunn’s corner tempted the American into an ill-advised attempt to punch the ball and Kalinic, who hit the post twice in the first leg, comfortably outmuscled Warnock to nod home.

Four of Kalinic’s five goals since arriving at Ewood Park in the summer have now been in the League Cup and he forced James Collins into a lunging block after wriggling free down the left.

The Croatian then started and finished the move that put his side ahead for the first time in the tie.

After laying the ball into the path of Pedersen, Kalinic continued his run into the box and was on hand to tap home after Guzan had done well to push away Olsson’s header.

Villa needed an immediate response to lift their fans and Warnock provided it inside four minutes, ruthlessly dispatching a finish after Ashley Young’s cross cleared a tumbling Ryan Nelsen.

Blackburn felt that Nelson had been pushed by Agbonlahor before the ball made its way to Warnock, but referee Martin Atkinson allowed the goal to stand.

The momentum was with O’Neill’s side and the match swung decisively the hosts’ way as Agbonlahor’s pace took him clear of Samba in the race for a long ball over the top.

The defender’s desperate sliding challenge only succeeded in earning him a straight red card and conceding a spot-kick.

Milner confidently converted the penalty once Atkinson had waved away protests from Blackburn’s players.

With Carlos Cuellar and Warnock pushing forward, Villa soon had the depleted Blackburn rearguard stretched.

Samba’s absence was notable as his team-mates failed to deal with Downing’s inswinging corner and Ngonzi put the ball into his own net just before Richard Dunne could.

Five minutes later, Milner’s fierce shot deflected off the arm of the cowering Agbonlahor to beat Robinson’s dive and prompt the unfurling of the free flags distributed to the home supporters.

When Heskey was slipped in by Milner’s cute pass and rounded Robinson to score, it appeared the tie would then turn into a procession but Olsson’s strike kept the encounter competitive.

The young Swede flung himself into the air to send a spectacular overhead volley past Guzan before loudly exhorting more of the same from his side.

Robinson made superb saves from Heskey and Agbonlahor before Emerton’s apparently harmless volley found its way past Guzan to breathe life into Blackburn’s faint hopes with six minutes remaining.

However, the required onslaught never came and Young curled a finish past the outstretched Robinson to put Villa into their first final since the 2000 FA Cup.

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